First Person: Preparing for a Wind Energy Future
The Fort Smith, Arkansas, facility will be MPSA's first nacelle production plant outside of Japan. The 200,000-square-foot plant, which is being designed and built by Gray Construction, is slated for completion by fall 2011 and expected to employ some 330 people. Recently, the editor of Area Development discussed MPSA's facility plans and the future of the U.S. wind power industry with Paul Thompson, who is the commercial director of MPSA's wind power group.
Paul Thompson, Director of Commercial Operations–Wind Turbines, Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas, Inc. (2011 Directory)

In light of the worldwide financial downturn, what does MPSA see as the future for the U.S. wind power industry heading into the next decade?
Thompson: We are seeing signs of growth in the number of wind turbine projects being built in the U.S. and believe this positive trend has the potential to continue over the long term. We also think that wind power has the potential to become a more prevalent and cost-effective alternative energy source in America.

How can we further compete with countries like China and India in this regard?
Thompson: To maintain our competitive edge, we are primarily focused on two areas. First, make the highest quality turbine in the world, and second, reduce cost wherever possible without adversely affecting quality. Those are two of the primary drivers behind the decision to locate a nacelle assembly plant in the U.S. The way we compete is by continuously improving the technology and offering the market more efficient and reliable turbines that bring more value to our customers.

Which parts of the wind power system does MPSA build? What is the "nacelle"?
Thompson: MPSA produces the entire wind turbine system, which consists of the structural tower, nacelle, rotor blades, and hub that connects the blades to the nacelle. The nacelle is the principal part of the wind turbine located at the top of the wind turbine tower that functions to convert wind energy to electric power. It contains the wind turbine rotor axis, generator, multiplying gearbox, control system, and electrical equipment.

What innovations are taking place in wind technology to deal with turbulence and wind shear?
Thompson: The effect of turbulence and wind shear can be detrimental to a wind turbine, because it induces higher stress on the turbine and affects the amount of power the turbine can produce. One innovative approach that MPSA uses in its newest, most advanced turbine is a low-speed shaft coupling that minimizes these forces and transmits only torque to the main shaft.

For the most part, where does MPSA's wind turbine manufacturing take place?
Thompson: Manufacturing of individual components currently takes place all around the globe. Components are then shipped to facilities in Japan, the U.S., and Mexico for final assembly. Of course, we also have plans for a nacelle manufacturing facility in Ft. Smith.

Why did MPSA choose to locate the nacelle plant in the U.S., and not in Mexico, where it already has an operation?
Thompson: Locating in Mexico was not out of the question. MPSA had to find the best location given the selection criteria, and that turned out to be in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Can you explain that further?
Thompson: MPSA looked at access to transportation, economic incentives, the presence of a highly qualified work force, and other factors. When all the factors were evaluated, Ft. Smith came out on top.

Did Arkansas' renewable energy policies have a bearing on MPSA's decision?
Thompson: Yes. To say that Arkansas has a business friendly environment, as it relates to renewable energy, would be an understatement. The leadership in the state of Arkansas has a vision for and a demonstrated commitment to the renewable power industry. The business friendly environment is the reason Arkansas has landed several of the industry's new major manufacturing facilities, and we don't expect that will change anytime soon.

We know MPSA builds products for alternative energy, but what "green" manufacturing practices does MPSA itself engage in?
Thompson: Our "green" manufacturing practices range from the use of modern, energy-efficient equipment to the use of innovative manufacturing processes that minimize the amount of energy needed to build and refurbish our products. We reduce waste stream by recycling liquids, powder coatings, and gases during the manufacturing process. Also, our Ft. Smith plant will be LEED-certified Gold and contribute to the reduction of oil consumption and air pollution by using electric transport vehicles.

What does it mean for MPSA to commit to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards? Why does this matter?
Thompson: The ISO 14000 International Standard on environmental management is a relative newcomer to ISO's family of standards. Like the ISO 9001 standards, the ISO 14000 standards provide MPSA with a set of guidelines and measurements that help assure our customers and us that we are conducting our business in an environmentally responsible manner.

Can wind turbines be high-efficiency and "environmentally benign" at the same time?
Thompson: Absolutely. Wind turbines are by their very nature environmentally friendly compared to other generation technologies that produce harmful emissions. Wind turbines generate electricity by converting the energy in the wind to electricity, but do not produce harmful emissions and hazardous waste or decrease the earth's natural resources. Wind power is renewable and clean and has been in use for centuries for everything from pumping water to generating electricity. Because it is among the lowest cost to produce compared to other forms of renewable energy, we believe it will continue to be the leading renewable power technology in the future.

What would you say to those concerned about the turbines harming birds and other wildlife?
Thompson: First of all, today's newer towers have much lower mortality rates in terms of wildlife. And the industry overall does a great deal of research so that the towers aren't placed in environmentally sensitive areas, that is in places with migratory bird patterns and endangered species.

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